May 26, 2021 Technology

The Double-Edged Sword of Technology

Jeffrey M. Allen and Ashley Hallene

We have talked about technology as a double-edged sword in many of the classes we have taught. For seniors, we should put the reference in bold-faced type as seniors appear among the most susceptible and vulnerable to the insidious nature of the downside of technology. Simply put, technology has come a long way in a short time and offers everyone significant benefits and advantages. Among those who can benefit the most from technology, seniors rank high on the list. The evolution of technology has provided us with opportunities for a better, easier, and healthier lifestyle as we age. To say that it has provided us with a new type of power comes under the heading of “understatement.” But, as any fan of the Marvel comic superheroes should know, Uncle Ben Parker (Peter Parker’s uncle) summed the situation up when he said that “With great power comes great responsibility.” Peter Parker, you may recall as the mild-mannered teen who, after a bite from an atomic-powered spider, morphs into Spiderman.

We will take most of this article to extol the virtues and benefits of technology for seniors, but we want to start with the same cautionary warning issued by Sgt. Phil Esterhouse on his regular weekly appearance on Hill Street Blues: “Let’s be careful out there.” If you intend to benefit from the power of technology, you need to understand and anticipate the attendant risks. You need to take the responsibility of exercising due care in availing yourself of some of the advantages technology offers. In a recent article in its Bulletin, the AARP discussed the following information from a recent FBI report:

  1. Total consumer losses to online crooks in 2020 exceeded $4.2 billion; a 69% increase over 2019. The total for men and women over age 50 came to $1.8 billion.
  2. The average loss came to $9,484.
  3. Tech support frauds were the biggest bane to folks 60 years or older. Approximately two-thirds of the victims were over age 60.

Now that you have some perspective on the problem you need to take action to limit your risk. Note that endeavoring to limit your exposure to technology itself does not successfully address the problem. First of all, technology has grown ubiquitous, and escaping it almost impossible unless you want to move to a desert island. Second, by restricting your access to technology, you deprive yourself of the benefits and advantages you can derive from its use. More or less a cutting off of your nose to try to avoid a bad smell.

Reasonable steps to take to limit your exposure:

  1. Don’t use public WiFi; carry your own cellular hotspot.  
  2. If you do use public WiFi, make sure that you use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to protect yourself.
  3. Get and regularly use virus protection and anti-malware software.
  4. Keep your operating systems and programs up to date.
  5. Do not click links in emails from unknown or questionable sources.
  6. Do not provide personal information (driver’s license number, social security number, etc.) to unknown or questionable sources.
  7. Use common sense in dealing with solicitations from tech service providers.
  8. Do not use email links to reach a supposedly legitimate source. Call them at a reliable number or go directly to their website without using the email link.

Okay, now that we have a baseline level of effort, you may ask the question, “Why should I go through all that hassle?” We have two answers for that: (1) You need to go through the hassle to make your use of technology reasonably safe and secure; and (2) You cannot really avoid technology, even if you want to do so; accordingly, you need to exercise caution to ensure that the second edge of the sword doesn’t catch you by surprise on the backswing.

Now let’s talk about some of the advantages technology provides us. Many of the benefits of technology apply more or less equally without regard to age. Seniors, however, may find some benefits a bit more useful/helpful/essential by comparison to younger people. For example, smart house technology. Over the last several years technology has given us the opportunity to really smarten up our homes. Everything from smart locks to smart lights, to smart appliances, to smart doorbells, to entertainment has had an IQ boost from technology. Remember, when you thought turning the lights on or off by clapping your hands improved on sliced bread? How last millennium! Now we have virtual assistants who can respond to verbal instructions to turn lights on and off, adjust the thermostat on your HVAC, turn on appliances, make coffee, etc. Today, we don’t even have to get up to answer the door. We don’t even have to be in the building. We can use smart video doorbells and answer the door from thousands of miles away. We can even talk to the person standing on our front porch from overseas if we want. We can use similar video technology to monitor pets while we are out shopping or at work or wherever. We can use audio technology to tell the dog to behave while out and about. Use the video to watch the expression on the dog’s face when your voice comes out of nowhere and tells the dog to stop doing something or to go to his box/bed/place. Or just to tell the dog you care and say something nice. The disembodied voice reaction can provide a constant source of entertainment.

Opening your front door with a combination may prove easier than trying to remember where you left your keys. Using your fingerprint to do so makes an even better choice as you don’t have to remember the combination. Today’s lock systems give you that option.

Among the many lessons we learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, the easy availability of massive quantities of entertainment and media information available on the Internet makes technology even more valuable to us. The ability to shop online proved a real boon to those with limited mobility and we all know now how easily we can do that. These developments have grown so important that the federal government has announced that it will explore subsidizing broadband connections for those who cannot otherwise afford them.

While many of the opportunities technology affords relate to convenience, a significant number relate to health. Health technology for the end-user ranges from fitness trackers and smartwatches to medical devices that can monitor your health in general, particular conditions you may have, and even administer medication (or remind you to take it). While these technologies can benefit everyone, seniors generally have more need for such things and stand to benefit the most from them. Fitness trackers and smartwatches can help you keep track of your exercise and activities, monitor your sleep, track your calorie burn, monitor your blood pressure, pulse, EKG, pulse oxygen, glucose level, etc. It can also send you an alarm and reminder to take your medicine or even administer medication to you automatically at prescribed times and dosages. If you have a problem that results in a fall or an injury, an emergency button can take the “help I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” message, pass it along to emergency personnel and your emergency contacts, and get you some potentially life-saving help. These types of devices can make it easier for an older person to remain self-sufficient and able to live at home rather than in a group setting.

We have just scratched the surface of some of the advantages provided by technology. If you want more examples, check out this article published by AARP: https://www.aarp.org/home-family/personal-technology/info-2014/is-this-the-end-of-the-nursing-home.html.

In closing, we will leave you with this thought. In the 1980s, when personal computers started coming onto the scene Jeff was an early adopter. His wife, not so much. When he brought home a new piece of technology, his wife would look at him with askance and comment: “Yeah, but can it take you dancing on Saturday night?” The answer, in those days, of course, was always “No.” Nowadays, however, robotics ranging from seeing-eye vacuum cleaners to limited function butlers have changed the response to “Well…. maybe.” As technology grows the answer evolves. Today, “Maybe”; tomorrow, “Yes.”

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Jeffrey M. Allen

Principal

Jeffrey M. Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California, where he has practiced since 1973. He is active in the ABA, the California State Bar Association, and the Alameda County Bar Association. He is a co-author of the ABA books Technology Tips for SeniorsTechnology Tips for Seniors Volume 2.0Technology Solutions for Today's Lawyer and Technology Tips for Lawyers and Other Business Professionals.

Ashley Hallene

Petroleum Land Manager

Ashley Hallene is a Texas-licensed attorney and a Petroleum Land Manager at Macpherson Energy Corporation in Bakersfield, California. Prior to moving to California, she practiced Oil and Gas law, Title Examination, Due Diligence, Acquisitions and Oil and Gas Leasing in Houston, Texas. She frequently speaks in technology CLEs and is Editor-in-Chief of the GPSolo eReport and Chair of the Senior Lawyers Division Publications Board. She is co-author of the ABA books Technology Tips for Seniors and Technology Tips for Seniors Volume 2.0